By LAURA RIGOLOSI & SHERRISH HOLLOMAN
Literacy is defined as “the condition or quality of being literate, especially the ability to read and write”, and in education, literacy is often perceived as something teachers “teach” their students. But how can teachers increase their own literacy? And why is it important?
Along with a team of CPET educators, we recently partnered with teacher leaders in the MinHang section of Shanghai, focusing on teacher research. With the goal of preparing teachers to write a research proposal by the week’s end, we spent five days in December exploring the key aspects of teacher research, including research questions and rationale, data collection and analysis, literature review, and drawing conclusions.
During our week of preparing teachers for research, we were reminded of the various types of literacy which extend beyond traditional reading and writing to include digital, media, computer, and content literacy, to name a few. For our purposes, we focused on the “literacy” of research, and found that key concepts remained true, even in Shanghai.
Humor helps just about everything
As we explored the research process, we began by brainstorming various teacher research questions that interested our group. Since we don’t speak Mandarin, we needed a translator to communicate, and were lucky enough to have Kaya Wang alongside us, who loved to laugh and make our participants laugh! Kaya posed this research question in our brainstorm: In what ways does teacher humor impact student participation? As facilitators, we know a good question when we see one, so we highlighted this question and used it for the rest of the week as we modeled each aspect of teacher research.
What a difference laughter makes in any classroom! When we asked our group of teachers to complete a model review of literature on the impact of teacher humor, their research, in and of itself, became funny. By the time they began practicing research using questions of their own, they understood the process of developing and analyzing a compelling question, and they had a bit of fun, too.
As facilitators, we realized how powerful it is to sneak the concept of humor into our teaching. It made all of the participants want to participate, and allowed them to understand the concepts we were teaching within the context of humor. When others walked past our classroom and heard laughing, they took a look inside...was this the classroom for “teacher research?” Why was there so much laughter? It made us examine how crucial the model is, and how delightful classrooms can be if humor is involved.
If you don't know, you don't know
While in Shanghai, we spent one evening at a grand spa with pools, baths, reading rooms, a dining area — it was lovely. Remember, this was before Coronavirus, so we had none of the concerns we would now have about going to a spa.
When it was our turn to get a massage, the masseuse was asking questions (in Mandarin) and when we gestured that we didn’t understand, she spoke louder (we shrugged) and even slower (we shrugged again). We had no translation book and no phones on us (everything was in our lockers), so there was no way to translate. In an act of desperation, she took out a worn, laminated sheet to help communicate — except the characters on it were in Mandarin, so this did not help!
When we discussed our spa experience later, we laughed about the misunderstandings (did we mean to get scrubbed down with a loofah sponge?), but also discussed how often this dynamic happens in classrooms. There are so many students in our care who do not have a strong background in English, and while speaking slowly and loudly may seem like a way to bridge a language gap, it won’t be helpful if the listener does not have a solid foundation in the language.
If only there had been basic images or a few key words on that laminated piece of paper, we would have been able to better understand our options and the fees associated with them. (And I’m not sure we would have chosen the painful loofah scrub.) While this is not a new concept, we revisit it often, especially when creating curriculum or trying to reach online learners. When creating content, we remind ourselves of our time at the spa, and strive to incorporate clean, useful visual cues for those we're teaching.
Great teachers make great students
At its core, research is challenging. When factoring in our language barrier with the Shanghai team, the challenges increased. But time and time again, we were reminded of the importance of allowing ourselves to be students, as well as teachers. We learned as much from the educators in Shanghai as they did from us.
At one point, we ventured out to order dinner from the Pizza Hut beside our hotel. After fumbling our way through trying to order a cheese pizza from the menu, the waitress held her phone near us and we learned about a wonderful translation app that made ordering easy. We spoke in English, and the app translated our words into Mandarin. This gave us great confidence as we navigated through Shanghai on our own, and in our sessions with MinHang teachers. This interaction (at Pizza Hut, of all places!) helped remind us of the importance of providing multiple entry points when navigating new content and concepts, and allowed us to position ourselves as learners in an unfamiliar environment.
We found that everyone played the role of student at various times throughout the week — whether discussing research or language, we all experienced the challenges and benefits of learning. Our ability to reverse roles with those we were meant to be teaching served as a tool for professional growth, for all of us. K-12 classrooms can benefit from this role reversal, too — intentionally offering points in our instruction for student expertise to flourish will allow for increased literacy opportunities through modeling, and will offer everyone (teachers included) the chance to practice lifelong learning skills.
Our time in Shanghai broadened our own definition of literacy and how it can involve humor, visual elements, or at least a hefty dose of translations. What began as an institute focused on teacher research morphed into a collaborative learning experience that challenged assumptions and led us to conclude that there are lessons of literacy in many of our daily interactions — whether in your classroom, a local restaurant, or grand spa in Shanghai. As teachers become more entrenched in the literacy opportunities around them, they can expand their practice and deepen their craft.
TAGS: LAURA RIGOLOSI, LITERACY, SHERRISH HOLLOMAN
By LAURA RIGOLOSI and JACQUI STOLZER
What happens when your class is full of 30+ students who have different strengths, different learning styles, and different comfort levels with the English language? We’ve been tackling this question alongside K-12 educators through PD series like Educating ELLs and Including All Learners, where we address the promises and challenges of teaching in heterogeneous classrooms by exploring the principles of differentiation and related research for classroom applications.
When our most recent set of Including All Learners sessions began in January, we set out to support a new group of educators as they worked toward their differentiation goals. We didn't yet know that we would soon experience social distancing, that toilet paper would become the most coveted household item, or that both teaching and learning would rapidly transition from in-person to online.
During this time of online schooling, we are particularly concerned about students who either do not have online access, or do not have a quiet nook in their homes to learn. A few years ago, one of our students commented that he slept with the English novels from our class under his pillow — it was the safest place in his home, where he didn’t have a workspace of his own.
As we write this from our individual homes and reflect on the recent shift to virtual education, we are focusing on the principles of our Including All Learners series that remain true in any kind of teaching and learning environment. Below, we will outline a few concepts from our workshops and share how they carry over to our online learning experiences.
Disrupt the single story
We begin our sessions with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story. She explains to her audience how all of us, including Adichie herself, have told a singular version of someone’s life story, and have also been victim to a single story about ourselves. She shares how damaging and incorrect these single versions can be.
This concept serves as a reminder that we must disrupt the single stories that are often assigned to our students, particularly those who are ENLs or are students with disabilities. This can be more challenging than it sounds, particularly when students have to be described in IEPs, which do not allow for a more complex telling of their life stories. In our workshops, we challenge ourselves and participating teachers to share other versions of our students’ stories — something you can continue to do in online communication with other adults in your community.
What helps some students can help all
One of the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is that what helps some learners can help all learners. This concept can be illustrated by the design of public spaces — for example, people of all ages and abilities benefit from public bathrooms that are wheelchair accessible; they are wider, are often designed without entry doors, and are therefore easier to navigate and offer fewer opportunities for spreading germs.
One way we try to illustrate this concept in our workshops is by providing all participants with tools that support their learning. For example, while we view the Adichie TED Talk, we offer our participants a simple graphic organizer (like a double entry journal) that allows everyone to listen fully, while also allowing them to recall specific compelling moments in the talk. Our double entry journal includes two components: a column on the left, partially filled out with quotes from the text (in this case, the TED Talk), and a column on the right, which is open for viewers to share their thoughts. Returning to the ideas presented in UDL, a double entry journal that includes specific lines from the text is useful for students who have central executive challenges, but in reality, everyone can benefit from the text references.
The principles of UDL feel particularly important at a time when it is more difficult to ask students where and how they need support. Just as we provided a partially completed double entry journal for all of our participants, consider making your scaffolds accessible to all students on your online platforms. This might look like providing possible sentence starters to all students for written explanations, or providing a series of clues for students solving a math problem.
Show the messiness of thinking
Metacognition expert Dr. Saundra McGuire defines metacognition as simply thinking about your thinking. Being able to think about how you’re making meaning of a piece of writing — as well what you can easily understand and what you can’t — is an important aspect of engaging with complex texts.
One tool we offer educators is a model of a think aloud, where we simply model the messiness of the thinking that goes into making sense of our reading, writing, and problem-solving. The goal is to dispel the idea that a text suddenly and magically makes sense without struggle and hard work, and to show them that everyone relies on thinking moves that help them chip away at difficult texts.
Consider doing this type of think aloud with your students online — either in real time or as a short recorded video. Rather than simply creating a video where you explain the major steps needed for answering a question or solving a problem, try to capture yourself actually doing the work, making even your smallest thinking moves visible — the questioning, rereading, reasoning, and revising that often happens while engaging in higher-order tasks, but that we often do without even realizing. You might also share things like how you knew to begin your answer in a certain way, or what bit of information caused you to stop and double-check your computations. Sharing these micro thinking steps will help students see that there is not a singular way to answer a question or to solve a problem, which may help them become more aware of their own thinking.
As you continue transposing your classes to online learning, we hope you will utilize the tools and concepts we have outlined here, to ensure you are reaching all learners. While our in-person sessions are on hold, you can continue to participate in professional development on this topic by joining us online.
TAGS: DIFFERENTIATION, JACQUI STOLZER, LAURA RIGOLOSI, REMOTE LEARNING